Promoting Children's Health through Food

healthy youth cropped.jpgFor the first time in recent history, kids living in the United States have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the "current epidemic of inactivity and the associated epidemic of obesity are being driven by multiple factors ...and must be addressed likewise on several fronts."

For youth to be truly "healthy," many factors must be addressed, beyond body mass index or level of physical activity. Research by Girl Scouts USA suggest that today's girls place the same value on emotional well-being and self-esteem as they do on diet and exercise. Many programs take this holistic approach to health, focusing on issues such as family life and human relations, mental/emotional health, physical health/disease prevention, substance abuse prevention, bullying, dating and sexuality, eating disorders, and safety.

While there are many different approaches being implemented across the country to promote healthy living for youth, two stand out from their perspective on connecting children to healthy food and the sources of that healthy food.

The Food is Elementary of the Food Studies Institute program educates children about nutrition by providing a positive experience of food and food preparation that is fun, hands-on and sensory-based. Its program is “a unique and vibrant curriculum introduced into schools and communities that teach children about food, nutrition, culture, and healthy living by:
• Educating children about the relationship between food choices and disease prevention
• Encouraging a child's natural curiosity and creativity to be the foundation of learning
• Providing children with the life skill of food preparation through hands-on interactive experience
• Introducing healthful foods through the traditions and arts of different cultures
• Involving families and community in classroom teaching, school meals, gardens, and collaborative mural projects"

The results of this programming are tremendous, demonstrating remarkable success in improving the physical and mental health of children, including:
• The development of preference for fruits, vegetables and whole foods over processed junk foods
• Reduced Body Mass Index and improved general health in school children within just weeks of educational intervention
• A welcomed introduction of plant-based entrees into the school lunch program
• Parents choosing healthier foods due to the influence of their children
• Dramatic improvement in the behavior, mind set and academic performance of troubled teens

The same types of results are being realized in the Rethinking School Lunch program of the Center for Ecoliteracy. The program provides a systems-oriented curriculum that:
• Includes an online Rethinking School Lunch guide, an essay series, "Thinking outside the Lunchbox," technical assistance, grants, and presentations
• Creates a framework for a comprehensive curriculum that integrates campus gardens, kitchen classrooms, school lunch, and a wide range of academic subjects
• Treats childhood obesity, nutrition-related illness, the quality of school lunches, and children’s ability to learn as related issues
• Recognizes that lunchroom experiences (including poor-quality meals, shortened lunch periods, commercial messages, and excessive packaging and waste) can be a "hidden curriculum" that undermines classroom lessons about nutrition and health
• Links schools’ food purchasing decisions, the viability of family farms, solid waste generated by the lunchroom, and the environmental cost of shipping food over thousands of miles
• Offers, through Thinking outside the Lunchbox essays, challenging views by leading thinkers on food and food systems, education, economics, and personal and community health
• Provides a downloadable Model Wellness Policy Guide that provides language and instructions for drafting a Wellness Policy that places health at the center of the academic curriculum

Perhaps when it comes to the health of our children, it makes sense to start with the basics. Does your community have programs that promote the health of youth through food programs? We'd love to hear from you.

Caroline Heine

Posted at 1:00 AM, Feb 27, 2008 in Education | Environment | Health | Youth | Permalink | Comments (7)


Wow, very comprehensive you guys! The information provided by you is very excellent. I got good knowledge from your summery. It is very useful and helpful for every one.

Posted by: jim

Very interesting article, and fun to read. The information provided by you is very good.It is very useful and helpful for every one. I am really thankful to you for your comprehension.

Posted by: rob

The consumption of fresh (preferably organic) vegetables and fruits (in this order, by the way) is unquestionably a critical underpinning of a healthy diet. Unfortunately many adults do not like these fine foods - so kids are the concern. This is why I wrote this book. Anyone interested in getting kids to develop a friendly attitude towards fruits and vegetables should take a look at new book called “The ABC’s of Fruits and Vegetables and Beyond.” Great for kids of all ages – children even learn their alphabet through produce poems. It is coauthored by best-selling food writer David Goldbeck and Jim Henson writer Steve Charney. You can learn more at

Posted by: Anonymous

Thanks for sharing the information about your book. Certainly the earlier we introduce our children to the connections between food and food sources, the more likely it is that that connection will be meaningful for them.

Posted by: Caroline Heine

This is some thing which looks good for the people who are looking for healthy food choices for there children. Eating Food is an essential part of life which makes elders and children to live healthy.

Posted by: Healthy food choices

Great stuff, Caroline.
I've never posted feedback and thought it was time to send along some kudos!

Posted by: kelly

Great stuff, Caroline.
I've never posted feedback and thought it was time to send along some kudos!

Posted by: kelly